reel reviews
movie reviews
May '08

SEX AND THE CITYTHE STRANGERSTHE FALL
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
SON OF RAMBOW
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN
SPEED RACERREDBELTYOUNG @ HEARTTHEN SHE FOUND MEWHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS
IRON MANFLAWLESSTHE VISITORMADE OF HONOR

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

  Visit the Reel Reviews archives
Visit the Video/DVD reviews

Sex and the City
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

In the last few weeks, movies for the guys and the kiddies have dominated the box office. Now, it’s the ladies’ turn.

Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda have moved to the big screen, and if you don’t know what that means, then you’re probably in the wrong demographic group for Sex and the City.

Sarah Jessica Parker (Smart People) and her fashionable gal pals from the hit HBO TV series are back in a raunchy two hour and twenty minute comic soap opera. It will undoubtedly delight fans of the show…and perplex nearly everyone else.

The plot concentrates on Carrie, a fortysomething writer who has finally persuaded wealthy financier Mr. Big (Chris Noth from TV’s Law and Order) to get married. As she plans her elaborate nuptials, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) flirts with pregnancy, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) splits with her unfaithful hubby and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) carries on with a hunky young actor while lusting for the stud next door.

Jennifer Hudson follows-up her Oscar-winning performance in Dreamgirls playing the movie’s only new character. As Carrie’s assistant Louise, Hudson shows no sign of the acting chops she showed in her illustrious film debut.

The movie version of Sex and the City features a lot more bawdy sex talk than writer/director Michael Patrick King could pack into a half hour television episode. And, with the additional freedom that the movies provide, he also injected some unexpectedly graphic nudity.

Some will rightly complain that the story and characters don’t exist in the real world. But, who cares? This is an adult fantasy. Fans of the show aren’t interested in believability. They want to participate in a freewheeling cocktail of high fashion and soapy excesses. On this count, the movie really scores.

But more than anything, there’s padding. The scenes are repetitious and they usually linger much too long. There is more unnecessary stuffing in Sex and the City than in all of the ladies’ generously padded bras.

True Sex and the City groupies will enjoy the opportunity to hang with their old friends. In this respect, Sex and the City is a little like a giddy reunion party of sorority sisters.

Guys, if you have enough fortitude to endure a lengthy swim in a sea of estrogen, then you’ll probably survive unscathed. But this one is really for the girls. Let them take their gal pals while you and your buddies catch a screening of Iron Man. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted 05/30/08)


The Strangers
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

For release on the same weekend that Sex and the City is set to dominate the box office, the thoughtful studio honchos offer us a bit of clever counter-programming.

The Strangers is a creepy horror thriller designed to keep your stomach tied up in knots. Now that’s entertainment!

Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings) and Scott Speedman (TV’s Felicity) star as a nice couple looking to get away for a romantic weekend. Instead, a trio of masked intruders terrorizes them.

Tyler plays Kristen, a lovely young woman who has just attended a wedding with her boyfriend James, portrayed by Speedman. Although Kristen has plenty of affection for James, it’s clear that she’s not ready for commitment.

James has taken the time to set up an elaborate opportunity to propose. He’s secured his family’s remote vacation home for the weekend, stocked it with copious amounts of champagne and littered the bed with rose petals.

When Kristen demurs when he pops the question, a depressing mood sets in. But that is as good as this couple is going to feel on this night. Soon after their arrival at the cottage in the wee hours of the morning, there is a mysterious knock on the door. It is a woman asking, "Is Tamara here?"

Of course, this is just a test. The woman is part of a sadistic trio intent on systematically scaring James and Kristen out of their wits. Before long, this nice couple is cowering in the house and fighting for their lives as the three creeps don masks and start brandishing axes.

The recent film Funny Games employed a similar plotline, but that is where the similarities end. At least Funny Games had something on its mind. It was a sly commentary on the American class system and a devastating critique of violence in American movies. The Strangers is just the sort of film that the makers of Funny Games were admonishing.

The Strangers is empty-headed, sordid and exploitive. It has no discernable screenplay or character development. The only thing that first-time writer/director Brian Bertino aims to do is to send some chills down our spine. To his credit, he manages this feat thanks to a few well-staged and genuinely creepy sequences.

If your idea of amusement is watching senseless violence unfold before your eyes, then The Strangers will fill the bill. If you were hoping for more substantial chills, Funny Games will be out on DVD soon. (R) Rating: 2.5(Posted 05/30/08)


The Fall
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Here’s a textbook case for you.

While film is a medium that relies extensively on capturing our imagination through visuals, the pictures need to be supported by a strong story in order to maximize their impact. The Fall is a spectacular treat for the eye that simply is unable to engage the brain.

Indian filmmaker Tarsem Singh burst onto the scene years ago, notably staging elaborate scenes for commercials and music videos. His feature directorial debut was The Cell, a phantasmagoric spectacle about a psychotherapist (Jennifer Lopez) who employs newfangled technology to enter into the thoughts of a serial killer.

The macabre material in that film provided Tarsem (he now goes by that name alone) an opportunity to explore some gruesome but visually arresting territory.

In the years following that 2002 release, Tarsem has been working on his magnum opus, The Fall. Over the last six years, he has cobbled together a patchwork movie using some of the sets and costumes from his elaborate commercial and video shoots at exotic locations around the world.

The screenplay for this violent adult fairy tale is by Tarsem, with an assist from Dan Gilroy (The Chasers) and Nico Soultanakis (an associate producer on The Cell). It seems more “complied” than actually written.

The time is 1915, the place, Los Angeles. Lee Pace (TV’s Pushing Daisies) leads the cast as Roy Walker, a Hollywood stuntman who has been hospitalized after an accident on a movie set. Paralyzed and facing the loss of his lover as well as his career, Roy simply wants to die.

In the recovery room, he meets a little immigrant girl named Alexandria, played by Romanian actress Catinca Untaru. Stuck in the clinic with a broken arm, Alexandria is bored and lonely. Roy convinces Alexandria to steal him some morphine from the pharmacy by promising to tell her elaborate fairy tales.

As he pumps himself with more of the drugs that Alexandria steals for him, Roy’s stories become more and more bizarre. Taking a cue from better movies like The Wizard of Oz, Tarsem uses characters that populate the real world to play out the roles of those in the fables.

Tarsem makes a feeble attempt to tie this fantasy world to events in the lives of Roy and Alexandria, but his efforts never approach coherency.

Colossally pretentious and shockingly dull, this violent fairy tale isn’t for the kiddies. In fact, it isn’t for many adults, either. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted 05/30/08)


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Okay fans, the wait is finally over. After 19 years and many aborted efforts, the latest installment of one of Hollywood’s most popular movie series has finally arrived.

Fans of old-fashioned action fantasy get just what they want in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Sixty-six year old star Harrison Ford returns as the adventure-seeking archeologist in Steven Spielberg’s over-the-top popcorn flick.

Although Ford is a decidedly weathered hero, he still manages to crack a mean whip and deliver the heroic goods.

In the screenplay by George Lucas (Star Wars), David Koepp (Spider-Man) and Jeff Nathanson (The Terminal), we’re transported back to the late 1950s where our intrepid college professor is reluctantly drawn into a search for a valuable South American artifact. Some ruthless agents of the KGB are also seeking this object, so trouble quickly brews.

New to the cast is Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) as Mutt Williams, a motorcycling Marlon Brando wannabe who enlists Indy’s aid in locating a missing professor (John Hurt from Hellboy). Ray Winstone (Beowulf) appears as a CIA double agent Mac McHale and Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) has fun with her role as Irina Spalko, the most notorious Soviet spy since Boris and Natasha.

But most welcome is the return of Karen Allen (In the Bedroom) as the spunky Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s love interest in Raiders of the Lost Arc. Once again, she proves to be every bit Indy’s match as fate thrusts her into his latest adventure.

The Indiana Jones movies are a loving recreation of Hollywood cliff-hanging serials of the 1930s, but with decidedly better production values. In this episode, Indy manages to dodge countless bullets, escape from angry South American jungle tribes and even survive an atomic blast!

As in those innocent days of the ‘30s, we’re expected to fully suspend our disbelief and just go along for the ride. Those who are reluctant to do so will find Indy’s latest installment a rough go.

The story is hokey in the extreme and features some of Lucas’ famed clumsy and hackneyed dialogue. Luckily, the cast delivers the awkward lines with aplomb and the story provides Spielberg with an opportunity to mount some truly impressive and often funny action sequences.

Although Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is far from the best of the four films, it may well be the second best. Welcome back old-timer. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted 05/23/08)


Son of Rambow
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Nostalgia is a strong force among moviemakers and audiences. When it can be artfully tapped into, the results are often rewarding.

The modest British comedy Son of Rambow manages to capture a bit of 1980s atmosphere and a touch of the giddy energy of childhood fantasy. It is also a loving homage to cinema.

Writer/director Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) is obviously taking us back to his childhood even though his story is strictly fictional.

Young Bill Milner plays Will Proudfoot, a member of a repressive religious society called The Brethren. Although he attends public school, he must excuse himself from class whenever an educational film is shown. Members of his faith are not allowed to see movies.

Will has an active imagination, however, and spends much of his time drawing and creating unique worlds and creatures. (The filmmakers employ a bit of animation to occasionally bring Will’s creations to life.)

One day, Will encounters a bully named Lee Carter (Will Poulter) from the wrong side of the tracks. Lee, a rough and unpopular kid, is known for his various law-skirting activities like theft and video pirating. Through a series of circumstances, these boys become unlikely friends.

Lee gets his hands on a camcorder and decides to make a movie to enter into a BBC-sponsored contest. He pressures Will into helping out with this project. Will, of course, has never seen a movie, so Lee shows him a video of Sylvester Stallone’s violent 1982 action flick, First Blood.

Will’s imagination goes into overdrive. He decides that they should make a sequel to First Blood and that he should play the son of Stallone’s character. He feverishly begins to create storyboards and the boys begin to shoot their magnum opus.

Of course, Will has to keep this activity a secret from his mum and the overly protective elders of the sect they belong to. This becomes difficult when a lot of his schoolmates get wind of the project and they all want to participate in some way. Suddenly, these two misfits become cool by association.

The production gets bigger and bigger, and numerous complications arise as a result.

The cast is likable and the production values of this coming-of-age flick belie its low budget.

Although its charms are simple, Son of Rambow is an amiable salute to the movies as well as an affirmation of the power of friendship. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted 05/23/08)


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Part two of Disney’s take on C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series is a bigger production than its predecessor, the 2005 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. According to the film’s production notes, Prince Caspian has twice the visual effects of the first film, more makeup and a larger Aslan (the lion who is the ultimate ruler of Narnia).

But bigger isn’t necessarily better.

C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series books are literary comfort food. They are children’s adventure stories that encourage imagination and a hopeful outlook. Even when the main characters face danger, help or the promise of help is near.

Writer/director Andrew Adamson, co-writers Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, and a huge cast and crew captured the sentiment of Lewis’ series in the cinematic version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Unfortunately, a bit of the literary series’ soul is missing from the latest production.

The movie commences with protagonists Peter (William Moseley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) being transported from a London underground railway station back to Narnia.

Narnia has changed since their last visit. A race of humans known as the Telmarines have taken over, and Narnia’s magical talking animals, dancing trees and other fantastic creatures has gone into hiding.

Narnia’s negative transformation becomes clear to the four protagonists early on when Lucy sees a bear and runs to greet it. The bear is not one of the intelligent creatures they met during their previous visit to Narnia. Instead, it is wild and determined to attack Lucy. A dwarf observes and remarks to the confused children, “You get treated like a dumb animal long enough, and that’s what you become.”

That not-so-subliminal message is one of many in which the filmmakers seem to be trying too hard to create something philosophically significant. Even the enhancements made to the creatures’ appearances are overkill at times.

Early in the film, the huge centaurs’ lumbering bodies and some of the creatures’ booming voices (think Ten Commandments) create unintentionally funny moments.

Ultimately, the action sequences save Prince Caspian from becoming a caricature. The battle scenes are exquisite, particularly one in which the Narnians try to take over the Telmarine king’s castle. Plus, the young cast (including Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian) is charismatic and competent.

Prince Caspian is visually stunning and offers some compelling sequences that should appeal to audiences of all ages, just with less emotional impact than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Less can be more. In this case, more turns out to be less. (PG) Rating: 3 (Posted 05/16/08)


Speed Racer
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Success can be a huge burden. The Wachowski Brothers (Andy and Larry) provide a great example of this truth.

Their groundbreaking action flick The Matrix (1999) won them accolades, Oscars and the distinction of being trendsetters in the special effects arena. The proof: The Matrix’s proverbial progeny of wall-walking fighters have proliferated. These days it’s a rare action flick that doesn’t have fighters literally climbing the walls.

Flash forward nine years from that first Matrix movie, and Houston, we have a problem, sort of. The brothers’ most recent film, Speed Racer, is a slick-looking, live-action version of the 1960’s cartoon of the same name.

The movie’s premise is simple. Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) inherits a love of racing from his father (John Goodman as Pops), a mechanic, and his older brother Rex (Scott Porter), a professional racer.

Rex crashes during a race, and the family never sees him again.

Speed grows up and picks up where his older brother left off. He’s on his way to becoming the world’s greatest racer when he decides to turn down the sponsorship of a powerful businessman, Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam). In an attempt to educate Speed and bully him into accepting the sponsorship, Royalton tells Speed about mass corruption in professional racing.

Speed then sets out to win the honor of competing in the sport’s biggest competition, the Grand Prix, and expose the corruption. But before achieving these goals, he has to face some life-threatening dangers.

The movie gets rather thrilling after a meandering 40-minute setup, during which the movie flashes back and forth in time to give viewers the back story. Unfortunately, there’s so much popping in and out from present to future, that some viewers might have trouble following the story.

There’s also the matter of some odd visuals. The movie begins with a ‘60’s visual aesthetic that uses real folks inside a cardboard-looking world where grass and sky are as painted on as the Caribbean Queen’s jeans.

But once Speed Racer gets into Speed’s present and mostly stays there, it’s a beauty to behold. According to film production notes this flick contains more than 2,000 special effects and computer-generated graphics galore, including graphic recreations of exotic locales.

But alas, taken as a sum of its parts, the movie lacks luster. As one of my colleagues said as we were exiting the screening, “Well, it looked good.”

Unfortunately, movies are somewhat like dates, and looks alone don’t inspire a second date (or in this case, a recommendation to friends). Though definitely not a terrible film, Speed Racer has some handicaps born of the huge weight of success its creators bear, the burden that creates the temptation to try to break new ground with every project.

Sometimes breaking new ground isn’t necessary. In the words of Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Likewise, a movie is sometimes just a movie, a simple amusement that exists just to entertain. Speed Racer could have been a great casual amusement. By trying to make it more, its creators made it less. (PG) Rating: 3 (Posted 05/13/08)


Redbelt
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Ever wonder what would happen if a cerebral filmmaker like David Mamet made a melodramatic sports film like Rocky?

Well, Redbelt comes as close to that formula as the writer of the scathing Hollywood critique Bambi vs. Godzilla would allow.

In true Mamet style, the story explores aspects of masculinity, ethics and social corruption. Like his earlier works The Spanish Prisoner and House of Games, it is also an intriguing and complex tale of duplicity featuring the manipulations of clever con artists.

British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster) plays Mike Terry, a jujitsu instructor operating a martial arts school on the west side of Los Angeles. He struggles to make ends meet while his wife (Alice Braga from I Am Legend) accuses him of being averse to making money.

His fortunes seem to take a turn for the better when he comes to the aid of a middle-aged movie tough guy named Chet Frank, well played by comic Tim Allen (Wild Hogs). After using his considerable defensive skills to beat up thugs who assault Chet at a bar, Mike is asked to become a consultant on a war film that Chet is shooting.

This chance encounter leads Mike into a labyrinth of complications that involve an LA cop (Max Martini from The Great Raid), a paranoid lawyer (Emily Mortimer from Lars and the Real Girl) and a host of other colorful characters.

The ensuing maze of ethical dilemmas culminates in Mike’s decision to reluctantly participate in an Ultimate Fighting competition.

Ejiofor gives a riveting performance as a man whose personal character is put to the test. Mamet would have been hard-pressed to find another actor who could bring the proper dignity to the role while meeting its rigorous physical demands. His commanding turn propels the movie and he never reveals a trace of his British origins.

Mamet’s usual stable of actors, including Joe Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon and Ricky Jay, lend solid support. (Hey, where’s William H. Macey?)

As usual, Mamet’s dialogue is terrific. It shrewdly bites and crackles but always sounds natural.

Unfortunately, Mamet gives into melodramatic urges and sacrifices the sense of reality that he worked so hard to establish. Plus, the convoluted nature of the con involved seems wildly implausible.

Mamet may have been attempting to cross over to a more mainstream audience, sacrificing some credibility along the way. It’s not a fatal flaw, but it lessens the impact of this otherwise sharp movie. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted 05/09/08)


Young @ Heart
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Young @ Heart opens with a prolonged yelp, the camera locked in a tight shot of a mouth, a flattened tongue framed by a few teeth. Then the camera pulls back to reveal the timeworn face of 92-year-old Eileen Hall. After the yelp, she commences her spoken lead of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”

It’s a hilarious beginning, the cinematic version of a speaker’s icebreaker, the joke as prelude to serious discussion.

Like the opening camera shot, this film provides a slow revealing of its subject: The Young @ Heart Chorus, a touring group of senior citizens who perform various rock songs.

The group begins rehearsals of new material, a funny experience for the audience but at times a painful one for the group. They struggle to learn songs such as James Brown’s “I Feel Good” and Allen Poussaint’s “Yes We Can Can.”

At one point octogenarian Dora Morrow exclaims that the words to “Yes We Can Can” are just hard. “I think I can, I know I can,” she recites in a humorous clip.

But Young @ Heart is not all fun and games, not all gimmicks. It’s more than geezer rock. The movie provides an insightful glimpse of aging as the members push on through sicknesses and deaths.

The interviews reveal that most of the chorus members weren’t rock fans before joining the chorus. Many favored opera. Regardless, the chorus provides them with challenges and something to do. And 53-year-old director Bob Cilman pushes them to learn new songs, new rhythms.

In the mouths of 70- and 80-year-olds songs like Coldplay’s “Fix You” and The Ramones’ “I Want to Be Sedated” take on new meanings. Rock music, frequently a symbol of defiance, becomes a metaphor for tenacity, a soundtrack to promote the living of life and a fearless human journey into the inevitable night.

Appropriately, Young @ Heart elicits laughter, tears and a bit of toe tapping. (PG) Rating: 4 (Posted 05/09/08)


Then She Found Me
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Many stars have tried to make the transition from actor to director. A number have been successful (Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Warren Beatty) while others have struggled. (Did anyone see Fred Savage’s travesty Daddy Day Camp?)

Oscar winning actress Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets) makes her directorial debut with the gentle drama, Then She Found Me. While her initial effort might not be in quite the same class as the first three directors mentioned above, she certainly has avoided the Fred Savage curse.

With the aid of Alice Arlen (Silkwood) and Victor Levin (Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!), Hunt also helped adapt the screenplay from Elinor Lipman’s novel. On both counts, she acquits herself nicely. It’s too bad that the story is so morose and conflicted.

Hunt plays April Epner, a schoolteacher who, in spite of all efforts, has been unsuccessful in her attempts to conceive. She and her husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick from The Producers) have a great sex life, but little else to bind them.

When Ben abandons April with the line, “I don’t want this life,” things start to look bleak. At age 39 she is facing a midlife crisis. Having been adopted, she yearns for the blood bond of her own child.

Soon after Ben leaves April, her bossy adoptive mother passes away. Suddenly from out of nowhere, a woman named Bernice (Bette Midler from The Stepford Wives) enters April’s life, claiming to be her birth mother.

The star of a popular daytime TV talk show, Bernice is a pushy broad who tells April a mixed bag of truth and lies about her conception and early childhood.

April soon begins a roller coaster romance with the father of one of her students, played by Colin Firth (Bridget Jones’ Diary). She also discovers that she’s pregnant from the last time she slept with Ben. The mad rush of conflicting feelings that April endures ramps her angst level up to an all-new high.

As a director, Hunt concentrates on the actors and gets good performances all around. But the cast can’t quite overcome some of the inconsistencies of the story. At times, the characters do things that seem arbitrary and inexplicable, and the film changes tone in jarring ways.

But Hunt manages to bring the film to a touching, satisfying conclusion. She may still be honing her skills behind the camera, but shows enough talent to hang with the big boys. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 05/09/08)


What Happens in Vegas
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Some movies linger in our minds, providing us with fond memories of fine performances and quotable dialogue. Other flicks are pleasant enough while we’re watching them, but provide little worth recalling.

What Happens in Vegas falls into the latter category. A congenial but predictable romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz (The Holiday) and Ashton Kutcher (The Guardian), What Happens in Vegas will quickly fade from our collective consciousness.

Diaz plays Joy McNally, an uptight Wall Street floor trader who was publicly dumped by her self-centered fiancée, who complained that she always “makes plans to plan.” Kutcher portrays Jack Fuller, an irresponsible Brooklyn cabinetmaker who is fired by his boss/father, played by Treat Williams (TV’s Heartland).

So, what do our slacker and over-achiever have in common when they hit bottom? Vegas, baby!

Joy flies off to Sin City with her best friend Tipper (Lake Bell from Over Her Dead Body), and Jack and his lawyer pal Hater (Rob Corddry from Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) do the same.

In a “meet cute” moment that only happens in the movies, both couples are accidentally booked into the same hotel room. After they get over the initial awkward phase, the foursome commiserates and consumes copious amounts of booze. Jack and Joy awake the next morning with hangovers and wedding rings on their fingers.

The next morning, our newlyweds begin to bicker and quickly decide that they’ve made a big mistake. But when Jack pulls the handle on a slot machine with Joy’s quarter in it, they hit the jackpot for $3 million.

When the feuding duo returns to NYC and go to court for an annulment, the judge (Dennis Miller) freezes the cash and tells them that they must remain married, cohabitate and attend regular sessions with a marriage counselor (Queen Latifah) for six months or nobody gets the money.

The remainder of the film unfolds in predictable fashion as Jack and Joy fight endlessly and generally fumble their way towards love.

Kutcher and Diaz are very attractive leads and their considerable personal charm accounts for 95 percent of this movie’s appeal. Corddry and Bell are also likable enough in their limited roles.

The script by Dana Fox (The Wedding Date) is strictly pedestrian, seemingly the product of the Hollywood screenplay Cuisinart. Director Tom Vaughn (Starter for 10) gives the film the look of a low budget indie clothed in Hollywood slickness.

Chances are you’ll forget in the time it takes to read this review. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (Posted 05/09/08)


Iron Man
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Do we really need a middle-aged superhero? Does Hollywood really think that the teenage audience it covets will turn out to see a once-popular actor make a comeback in a metal suit?

The answer to both questions is a resounding, “Yes.”

Iron Man, the latest Marvel Comic to make the transition to the big screen, is one of the best superhero movies in ages and Robert Downey, Jr. (Charlie Bartlett) is sensational in the title role.

Under the direction of Jon Favreau (Elf), Iron Man is an exhilarating, pleasurable extravaganza that will finally end the box office jinx that has plagued movies dealing with the conflict in the Middle East. (Sadly, it’s taken a fantasy to do so.)

Downey plays Tony Stark, a self-centered billionaire playboy whose family business, Stark Industries, is an arms manufacturer. A successful part of the military industrial complex, the company has flourished by creating weapons of mass destruction.

Although Tony is an egocentric pleasure seeker, he’s also a brilliant innovator with a scientist’s curiosity and a razor sharp wit. Thanks to (or in spite of) his cheeky personality, his few real friends include his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow from Running With Scissors) and an Air Force officer named Jim “Rhody” Rhodes (Terrance Howard from August Rush).

Unapologetic about his role, Tony asserts that peace comes from strength. But when he travels to Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest technological marvel of death, he’s ambushed and captured by insurgents and forced to create one of his high-tech missiles for them.

But the wily American turns the tables on his captors by building a metal flying suit, impervious to bullets and equipped with plenty of offensive gizmos. After kicking some Afghani backside, Tony returns home and has a change of heart about his company’s contribution to society.

This newfound humanitarianism doesn’t sit well with Stark bigwig Obadiah Stain (Jeff Bridges from Stick It), and, of course, mayhem ensues.

Although the script is credited to eight (count ‘em, eight!) writers, Downey deserves credit too, having created much of his own dialogue. His cagey performance propels this action flick every bit as much as the first-rate special effects.

The abundant eye candy is seamless, too. We’ve become so accustomed to computer-generated special effects that any minor flaw is glaring. The work of the magicians responsible for Iron Man should impress even the most demanding viewers.

So, who needs a middle-aged superhero? Hollywood does and so do we. (PG-13) Rating: 4.5 (Posted 05/02/08)


Flawless
Reviewed by Deborah Young

In the late 1960s, I fell in love with a cunning jewel thief named Alexander Mundy. He was the jewel of the television show It Takes a Thief, starring Robert Wagner.

Writers of heist films would be well advised to create characters with the same winning elements as Mundy and scripts that create the kind of suspense and tension that It Takes a Thief generated. The best thing about Mundy was his charm, his cool under pressure and his superior intellect.

The major fun of watching that show was trying to figure out how Mundy would pull off a difficult heist. He’d go to work talking to people and designing his plan. The plan always seemed design to both puzzle and intrigue the audience. What in the world was he doing? And how would he pull off such a difficult burglary?

Flawless, the story of a heist in 1960s London, seems designed to create the same kind of audience intrigue. Instead of a young, charming socialite type, the thief here is an old janitor at the London Diamond Corporation. The inimitable Michael Caine plays the would-be thief, Mr. Hobbs.

Hobbs talks Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) into being his accomplice.. Quinn is the first female manager at the Diamond Corporation. She’s brilliant, but she’s been passed over for a promotion several times.

When Hobbs reveals to Quinn that her future with the company may be short-lived, she becomes a reluctant accomplice. Hobbs’ plan should be as easy as making a cake with a box mix.

But what fun would that be? So screenwriter Edward Anderson threw in a complication. The company installs cameras in every major corridor of the building, and Quinn and Hobbs must figure out how to get the diamonds without being detected by those cameras.

Unfortunately, not much of the action occurs onscreen. We get a couple shots of Hobbs running toward the vault. Then the camera cuts away. The next thing we know the diamonds are gone, Laura’s freaking out and a detective interrogating Laura.

Caine charms and mesmerizes as usual. But watching the rest of this enterprise is like watching someone churn butter for an hour and forty-five minutes.

Moore’s biggest function is framing the story. She appears in old-age make-up at the beginning and starts telling her story to a scornful young female journalist.

The action starts with Moore switching down the street to the jazz standard “Take Five.” At the end, we get the conclusion of Laura’s interview with the journalist and a twist that turns the tale from porridge to syrup. Then once again Moore switches down the street accompanied by “Take Five.” And we’re out.

It’s no fun to watch a door, even if there’s a mastermind behind it plotting the heist of the century. Similarly, watching Flawless is not the suspenseful roller coaster ride it could be. The fun of the heist is missing in action here. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (Posted 05/02/08)


The Visitor
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

The term “low key” is often used to damn with faint praise. It’s used in favor of “slow,” “ponderous” or “boring.”

The Visitor is not slow, ponderous or boring. It is low key…in the best possible way.

Writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) isn’t the least bit interested in establishing a zippy, Hollywood pace. He’s interested in people and takes the time necessary to let us to get to know them.

McCarthy isn’t interested in star power, either. He’s interested in finding the best people for the roles he’s created and has assembled a terrific ensemble that brings his intimate story to life.

Leading the cast is Richard Jenkins (The Kingdom). No, he’s not a household name, but chances are you’ve seen him a million times. With The Visitor, this reliable character actor gets the best part of his 34-year movie career…and his first starring role.

Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a tenured professor at a Connecticut college who is nearing retirement. A widower whose only son lives in London, Walter is alone and spends his time tinkering with piano lessons and pretending to work on writing a book. He’s reduced to teaching one class per semester and is simply going through the paces of life.

Making a rare trip to New York for a conference, Walter discovers that a couple of illegal immigrants have taken up residence in the apartment he’s kept there for years. Thus begins an unusual relationship. Walter, the buttoned-down, emotionally repressed widower befriends a bohemian mixed-race couple…and his life is changed forever.

Haaz Sleiman (American Dreamz) plays Tarek Khalil, a gregarious, warm-hearted Syrian dreamer who fled his country for political reasons. His girlfriend is Zainab (Danai Guria), a Nigerian jewelry maker who sells her wares on the city streets.

Things get tricky when Tarek is wrongly arrested for jumping a subway turnstile. As an illegal immigrant, any contact with the law means trouble. Once he’s arrested, Walter does the best he can to help his new friends.

All of the actors are fine but Jenkins gives a subtle yet powerful performance as a lonely man whose icy façade melts in the glow of newfound friendships. His scenes with Tarek’s mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass from The Nativity Story) are particularly affecting.

With his second film, McCarthy shows that he’s definitely a filmmaker to contend with. He imbues his story with a strong sense of realism and an unhurried atmosphere that we usually see only in European films.

This is low key of high order. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted 05/02/08)


Made of Honor
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

The characters that populate the romantic comedy Made of Honor have obviously never seen a Hollywood chick flick. If they had, they would have known exactly what was going to happen to them.

The target audience for this middling time-waster probably won’t care that the story is so clichéd. They’re supplied with the formula, attractive stars and a tidy ending they demand, so they’ll probably be happy.

Patrick Dempsey, Dr. McDreamy from TV’s phenomenally popular series Grey’s Anatomy, stars as a wealthy, attractive playboy whose freewheeling ways are ultimately tamed by a sweet-natured woman. (If that isn’t a classic wish-fulfillment fantasy, then there are none.)

Dempsey plays Tom, an innovative lad who has a way with the ladies. In typical Tinseltown fashion, he and a pretty coed named Hannah (Gone Baby, Gone) “meet cute” at a college party.

Flash forward ten years and Tom has made a fortune by designing the cardboard cozies that wrap around hot coffee cups. Hannah works as an art restorer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They’ve never slept together…and they’re best friends.

Tom is known for his one-night stands and strict rules about dating. He seems quite content to flit from one tryst to another. Hannah has resigned herself to the fact that her pal will never settle down so she’s successfully repressed any romantic designs toward him.

While on a work assignment in Scotland, Hannah meets a wealthy nobleman named Colin (Kevin McKidd from TV’s Rome). After a whirlwind romance, they become engaged. Hannah asks her best friend Tom to be her maid of honor.

Naturally, when he sees that Hannah is unavailable, he wants her. Although he agrees to be the maid of honor, he tries to figure out how to sabotage the wedding.

There isn’t an original moment in the script by Adam Sztykiel, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont. The direction by Paul Weiland (Sixty Six) is workmanlike, if uninspired.

The thing that propels Made of Honor is its cast. Dempsey cuts a dashing figure and Monahan, who has a clean-cut, girl-next-door appeal, makes her cardboard character seem fully dimensional.

The supporting cast includes veteran Sidney Pollack (Michael Clayton) as Tom’s frequently wed dad, James Sikking (Fever Pitch) as a sympathetic reverend and Kathleen Quinlan (Breach) as Hannah’s mom.

The movie is immediately forgettable, but it meets the target audience’s minimum requirements. The makers of Made of Honor have honored their wishes. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 05/02/08)


Russ Simmons can be contacted at rs8155@aol.com.
Deborah Young can be contacted at dkayyoung@hotmail.com.

Visit the Reel Reviews archives
Visit the Video/DVD reviews

              
              
                 

2008 Discovery Publications, Inc. 1501 Burlington, Ste. 207, North Kansas City, MO 64116
(816) 474-1516; toll free (800) 899-9730; fax (816) 474-1427

The contents of eKC are the property of Discovery Publications, Inc., and protected under Copyright.
No portion may be reproduced in whole or part by any means without the permission of the publisher. Read our Privacy Policy.